Need help with brown eagles? Me too! These can be really tough to identify. Especially since they go through several different plumage-stages as they become adults. And adults are quite variable too. Here are some of the most important pointers. Remember that shape and size are just as important as colour. If you’re really keen to master your brown eagles, visit Kruger National Park in summer and spend some time studying them. Good luck! You’re gonna need it…

Key Pointers: Tawny

If you see one in winter, it’s probably a Tawny, as the other three are summer visitors. If you see a male and female together, it’s most likely a Tawny or Wahlberg’s – these two breed here, while the other two breed in Eurasia. Tawny is a big eagle with a heavy bill. Its plumage varies a lot, but they often look scruffy with different colours, and many are an orange-brown (tawny) colour.

Key Pointers: Steppe

A rare summer visitor. It eats mainly termites so spends a lot of time walking on the ground, with a horizontal posture. A big and powerful eagle. Look for the long, fleshy line of the mouth that extends to the back of the eye. Adults’ eyes are not as pale as Tawny’s. It is a bigger, heavier bird than Lesser Spotted with longer wings and more prominent fingers. Most are dark chocolate brown.



Key Pointers: Lesser Spotted

Lesser Spotteds are non-breeding summer visitors that often occur in large groups, especially at termite or locust outbreaks or quelea colonies. The name comes from the white-spotted plumage of youngsters, but adults are just brown. They do show a paler shoulder area though. Look for their long legs and ‘skinny jeans’. Lesser Spotted is smaller with a weaker bill than Tawny/Steppe.

Key Pointers: Wahlberg’s

Wahlberg’s is a small eagle related to Booted and Ayres’. It is a summer migrant that nests in a tree in spring. ‘Wahlies’ are quite small and compact, with weak, pointy bills. They vary in colour but are often very dark, and most have a dark patch of ‘make-up’ around their eyes. They often raise a short crest. Wahlberg’s looks like two crossed planks when it flies.